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Burning Man 2019
25/08/2019 - 02/09/2019
Two thousand years before Kafka’s Gregor Samsa woke up as a cockroach, Ovid, the literary bad boy of First Century Rome, was writing about metamorphoses dire and diverse. In a world caught between human folly and godly whims, his luckless heroes find themselves transformed into birds and beasts, trees and mountains, even constellations of stars. In some cases metamorphosis is meted out as reward, in others as divine punishment. And looming over every verse is the specter of death, the final transformation, a terminal point at which change is irreversibly arrested. To read these stories is a potent reminder that life is by its nature a transformative journey, where fate and character interact in unpredictable ways.
Burning Man is routinely described as transformative. At the personal level, a transformative experience. At the group level, a transformative event or culture. What does that really mean?
From “It changed my life” to “it’s changing the world,” Burning Man is a million stories, and the through-line across them all is change. Mutability. A tempering or annealing, like metal in a forge or glass in a kiln. Shedding the dross, revealing the true nature within. A crucible of souls.
We look at ourselves and think: I want to change. My surroundings, my community, my company, my city, my country. Innovation, modification, diversification. Evolution and revolution. But how much of this is will, and how much destiny? Do our true selves lie within, like the form inside the sculptor’s marble, waiting to emerge? Or must we find some north star, set a course, and lash ourselves to the wheel? In a world of manufactured desire and alluring spectacle, can we trust our own instincts?
As much as the personal journey of change may consume us, it takes place in a broader context, a tapestry of interrelated transformations of which ours is but one thread. Looking beyond the horizon of the self, we are surrounded by and inseparable from a world in constant transition. The political landscape and the physical landscape, our planet, in a cascade of tipping points. Do we have the power to influence these changes rather than just lament them, to bend the arc of history? And if we don’t have that power, does anyone?